It may be hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk, but that doesn’t stop your dog from needing to use the bathroom.
Planet Earth recently experienced its hottest day on record, and the effects of climate change are only worsening. Such extreme weather can lead to devastating and painful consequences for dogs, including burnt paw pads, heat exhaustion, heat stroke — and death. We asked Sarah Carotenuto, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine who has worked in emergency veterinary care for 20 years, how to keep canine friends safe, active and cool in extreme heat.
How hot is too hot for a walk?
It depends a lot on if your dog is acclimated to the heat or not. What I mean by that is if you’ve newly moved to a really hot, humid place and it’s their first time out, I would err on the side of caution — walking at dawn and dusk because they’re going to need time to get used to the climate. Making sure that they’re acclimated is very important. If you can’t leave your hand on the pavement for five seconds without feeling too hot, then it’s too hot for your dog’s paws.
What is considered a short enough walk in extreme heat?
Summer is not the time to start an exercise program, especially if you or your dog is overweight and out of shape. I would use the rule of walking for no longer than 10 to 15 minutes in the coolest part of the day, making sure your dog can cool down easily when they come back inside. What I mean by that is they’re panting, but within five minutes they can go back to breathing normally and they’re not overly exerting themselves.
Signs that your dog is overheated are really, really red ears; really, really red gums; the inability to stop panting after five minutes. Obviously, if they just don’t want to go any farther on the walk, that is a pretty good sign that they’re done. Really, a walk during extreme heat is only for urination and defecation and to get some fresh air.
How can you help your dog stay cool on a walk?
Take water and have that available for them to drink. You can also take one of those little misting bottles that have the automated fans. If you don’t want to be out for that long without water, don’t ask your animals to do it.
How can you help your dog cool down when you return from a walk?
Provide water. You can provide ice chips or ice cubes. You can use low-sodium chicken broth to make ice cubes. You can wet your pet down to help with evaporative cooling. And providing a nice tile floor for them to lay on is helpful. Fans are wonderful — but you want to have a cover on your fans so your dog doesn’t stick his face in it and create more injury.
Are there particular dog breeds that are extra sensitive to heat?
There are a couple that I would watch very closely in the heat of the summer. The first is Arctic breeds — anything that looks like it should be pulling a sled. The reason is they have very thick undercoats that are meant to protect them in snow, but unfortunately, they’re also great at retaining heat. It’s the same thing with any large breed like a herding dog that has a very thick coat.
The second type that has a very difficult time are the flat-faced dogs, which are known as brachycephalic breeds. The normal dog anatomy has been kind of smushed into a smaller face. They have more soft palate and more tongue to contend with and get out of the way to exchange heat and exchange air and pant, which is the dog’s main way of dissipating heat.
Are there any preexisting conditions or traits in dogs that make the heat more dangerous to them?
Those of us who may have a little extra weight on us are going to have a harder time in the heat and that’s the same thing with dogs. The other thing that will be problematic is older dogs who are arthritic — it’ll just take them longer on their walks and so that’s going to expose them to more heat. Dogs with preexisting breathing problems are also more at risk.
What are the most common heat-related emergencies you see in dogs?
The most common heat-related emergencies that we see are heatstrokes due to pets being left outside. That’s very difficult because once the body temperature exceeds 107 degrees Fahrenheit, we start to have changes in the proteins of the body that affect how our blood clots. I often explain to owners that it’s like an egg. When you take an egg out of the shell, it’s nice and liquidy, but when you apply heat to it, it becomes your breakfast. You can’t get your breakfast to go back to the liquidy eggs. That’s what happens to the proteins in dog bodies when they overheat. It’s very, very dangerous. Once that happens, it will predispose them to further episodes of heatstroke and they can have a lot of significant secondary conditions develop.
When should a dog immediately see a vet?
If your dog’s temperature is over 107, that is a medical emergency. The first thing you should do is apply cool water — not cold or ice water — but just cool water to start cooling them down. Then get them to a vet immediately. Another sign of heat stress is an animal that is panting, and hot and red, and just cannot settle down even when a fan or air conditioning is applied and they’re laying on a cool surface. If they’re continuing to have a really hard time breathing, they’re not getting cool enough and you should seek medical attention.
If you ever have a question, call an emergency clinic. We’d much rather you ask because one of the most dangerous things you can do is ignore it.
How can dog owners mitigate paw burns?
An easy thing you can do to mitigate paw burns is just to get a little booty to put over your dog’s paws. The ones I like are those silicone, rubberized booties. Some people use them in the cold so that ice doesn’t get between their toes, but they’re also very useful in the hot to prevent burns. I particularly like the ones that have Velcro that go around the ankle so that they don’t slip off. It will take your dog just a little bit of time to get used to them. The first time, they will prance like a weird reindeer.
How do you know if your dog has paw burns?
The first thing you’ll see is them shifting weight away from the affected paw. They’ll often be licking the paws as well. Once you turn over the paw, you will see almost peeling skin on the little paw pads. If that happens, certainly it’s quite painful, so I’d recommend seeing your vet.
Is there anything you can do at home to treat paw burns?
You certainly can wash it with soap and water and put something like aloe vera gel on it. Something like Neosporin would also be very safe to apply.
With the heat, owners may want to take their dogs swimming or let them play in water.
What are the dangers of that?
We can’t just assume that dogs know how to swim. We need to watch them carefully, first and foremost. I would always recommend having a life vest for your dog, especially if they’re being taken on a boat.
Secondly, things like spray hoses or sprinklers are really, really fun to bite at. It’s super good entertainment. But the problem is if they have no off-switch and they can’t stop drinking the water, that can lead to acute water intoxication. This is basically when you dilute your sodium to the point that you have swelling on the brain. So, just observing your dog around water, especially the first couple of times that they’re around it, is really important.